So no doubt you have all heard by now that Uber skeptic Simon Singh has won his libel appeal over the issue of whether his statements against the British Chiropractic Association should be treated as “fair comment” or not. Now this doesn’t mean that the case is over, Simon still has to win the libel case against him. However it does mean that he will be able to use the defence of “fair comment” rather than having to justify his statements as facts.
This is not only great news for Simon but for those seeking to reform the draconian British libel laws in general. Because of the importance of the judges involved in this decision, the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of Rolls and Sir Stephen Sedley, this ruling carries a lot of weight with it that could be used to help reform the current libel system, especially with regards to science and public health issues. But we still have a long way to go.
If you haven’t already get yourself over to the Libel Reform website and sign the petition to show your support. Even if you don’t live in the UK the British Libel laws still affect you as currently if anything you says can be accessed in the UK, which given the internet is pretty much a guarantee, then you can be sued under British libel laws. Scientists, and those of us who blog on science and public health issues, need to be able to present information that is in the public interest without fear of being sued by those who would rather the truth didn’t get out there. Right now the law is very much skewed in favour of those who would silence good science, but working together we can, and I have no doubt will, see this change in the very near future.
I’ll end with this great 1994 quote from Judge Easterbrook, chief judge of the US seventh circuit court of appeals, which is still spot on today. Easterbrook stated that those claiming they had been libelled:
“cannot, by simply filing suit and crying ‘character assassination!’, silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiffs’ interests.
“Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation. More papers, more discussion, better data, and more satisfactory models – not larger awards of damages – mark the path towards superior understanding of the world around us.”
I couldn’t agree more.